Tag: possessions

Impossible but for God

Mark 10:17-31 america-wealth-distribution
Hebrews 4:12-16

Today’s reading is one of those readings pastors are often told to “manage.” Manage it – don’t tell your congregation to be aesthetics and own no possessions. Don’t tell people to live in communes and hold all things in equal possession. Don’t advocate communism, or socialism, or speak of the writings of Karl Marx. No word of the groundbreaking work of Max Weber in his book “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.”

Manage it, and don’t let the genie out of the bottle!

A lot of pastors listen to the advice and try to manage the story.

Have you been told the story before that there was a gate in Jerusalem named “Eye of the Needle.” After dark, the big gates were closed and this little gate left open. The only way to get a camel through it was to unload the camel of all their baggage. Then the camel could get through on his knees. Therefore, Jesus must mean that the rich can get into heaven on their knees once they’ve gotten rid of their riches that are burdens.

It’s a great story.

It’s also utterly false. A monk made this up in the 9th century. No such gate existed.

And most rich I know don’t feel burdened by their wealth. Do you feel too wealthy?

Managing Jesus with the gate story – makes the rich hopeful, does nothing for the poor. That’s not the way of Christ.

I’ve heard this story managed by explaining the word translated as camel was actually supposed to be the Greek word for cable – like a ship cable or very thick rope. Sounds awful hard to get that through a needle… but you could get part of it through, or a little bit over time, or even could get a bigger needle. Big, big needles are used to sew ship masts.

We could manage the story this way and argue that the rich slip into heaven with difficulty, but heaven grows to accommodate them. Or the rich leave behind all their extras when they die and just the soul slips through. Just the center piece of rope.

More hope for the rich. Again – nothing for the poor. This is not the way of Christ. Christ came preaching good news for the poor.

In the history of the church, the church once became more powerful and rich and influential than kingdoms. As the wealth became accumulated, popes and bishops and archbishops and even local clergy lived in homes better off than their neighbors. Monasteries became little kingdoms unto themselves owning large tracks of land with serfs – almost slaves – renting the land from them to scratch out a living. The more power and wealth was concentrated into the church, the more corruption and sin snuck in. Eventually, all you needed was money to be made a clergy member. No skills at preaching, no calling from God, no commitment to living Christian needed. Just money.

How did they manage this passage? By not reading it. By controlling who could read the Bible. By reading the Bible only in languages the common people didn’t understand. The King James Version, understandable to the common person, drew on a manuscript that had the added words, “how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God”

Riches aren’t the problem. Trusting riches are. This is comfort for the rich… and again doesn’t help the poor. This is not the way of Christ. Christ decried the clergy who wore large tassels, spoke long prayers, and said ‘Thank God I’m not like that poor sinner over there!’

Modern pastors like to argue Jesus knew the particular weakness and sin of the rich man who came to him. So when Jesus tells him to give away his possessions to the poor, Jesus was hitting the man in his secret sin spot. This passage is managed by saying THAT RICH MAN, not me, has an issue with money. Jesus doesn’t ask me to share my wealth, but rather to give up whatever I treasure that separates me from following God. Maybe cursing. Maybe TV. Maybe road rage.

This is comfort for the rich, and doesn’t help the poor. Although it is good advice to get closer to God… Jesus doesn’t view God and you having an isolated, exclusive, relationship. God is found wherever two or three are gathered. God is in community. Giving up cursing is not good news to the poor, the captive, the slave.

Other modern pastors say the man was trying to EARN heaven, and Jesus shows how futile it is to earn heaven. No one could follow the commandments, or really give up all they own. Only the grace of God lets us in heaven. So why try to earn heaven? Just let go and let God.

But the belief in Judaism is that people really can follow the commandments. And Jesus looks at this man, and LOVES him. A rare use of love. Then Jesus invites this man to become a disciple – maybe one of the closest like Matthew or Mark or Peter. All the man needs to do is give all he owns to the poor, and follow Jesus. If this was just to show heaven cannot be EARNED, why does Jesus let the man go away grieving? Why not add, “You cannot earn heaven, but you can be given it?”

No. Jesus says: How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kindom of heaven.

The disciples are as upset as we are to hear this. Peter believes in the prosperity gospel. He believes that God favors those who help themselves – much as Benjamin Franklin would have us believe. Peter believes that God sends wealth to the righteous and moral and hardworking, and the lazy and sinful and immortal are poor. Peter points to this man who has followed ALL the commandments, and is clearly so blessed for this that he is quite wealthy, and Peter panics. If that holy of a man can’t get into heaven, how are we supposed to ever get into heaven? If the super rich priests in the temple can’t get into heaven – they who have nothing to do but pray and study God and don’t need to fish and hunt – if even they can’t get in… what about the rest of us?

We who curse? And sin? And forget to pray every day? We who don’t always have God’s blessing? Jesus – what about us? The poor?

The “first will be last, and the last will be first.”

The good news for the poor is that nothing is impossible for God. The very rich and the very poor, the very holy and the very sinful – God is able to bring anyone into heaven. Anyone into the reign of God.

For the wealthy, it is much harder than it is for the poor to live in this new reign. The wealthy have so much more to lose.

Homes.
Land.
Businesses.
Families.
Honorable names.
Comfortable lives.
Wealth.
Money.
Power.

The poor have much less to risk by following Jesus. The poor live into the realm of equality, of sharing equally, of treating all as equals much more easily than the rich who are usually born way, way more rich than others. Who are not used to viewing others as equals. Who would have to make drastic, drastic changes to live as equals with others. Changes that don’t feel fair.

Consider wealth in the USA. Wealth is calculated by your assets minus your debts. So let’s say you have a $250,000 house, but you owe $200,000 still to the bank. That means your wealth is actually only $50,000. Assets are things like your house, cars, bank accounts, retirement investments, and land. Debts are your student loans, credit cards, mortgages, and so forth.

Wealth distribution in the USA is easier with visuals. So let’s picture the USA as having only 100 people. And all their wealth together is 100 cherry pies. In an equal distribution, every person would have 1 pie. This is Jesus’ goal in the Bible. Everyone has enough. No one has too much. No one has too little.

But this world is not yet liberated from all sin.

In reality, twenty people take 90 pies for themselves in the USA, and leave 10 pies for 80 people. How do you think the 80 people will share their 10 pies?

The next 20 people take 8 of the 10 pies for themselves and pass on 2 pies. Just 2 pies for 60 people to share.

When we go back to thinking of these as dollars, when you reach the middle incomes of Americans to the bottom incomes, we are splitting 2% of the country’s wealth among us all.

60% of Americans – most of us – have only 2% of the country’s wealth.
1% of Americans own 40% of the country’s wealth all by themselves. That is a greater wealth inequality than the 1% wealthiest in France, or England, or Germany, equal with Russia and worse than Zambia! While 1 person in our story has 40 pies…

20 people have no pies at all. The 20 people in the middle income bracket take the 2 pies left from the rich and divide the slices among themselves. The next 20 people have nothing. No investments and saved money, but also no debt. It all balances out. They can’t stop working or retire or they’ll sink into the next category…

20 Americans in our story not only have no pie to eat, they owe a pie. They have more debt that income.

There is enough pie here for everyone. Even if someone took more than their share of one pie, someone else could give up a slice. But instead, 1 person sits on fourty whole pies and 40 people sit with nothing.

1 in 3 households in America are considered impoverished right now. They’re struggling to pay utilities, food, for a roof over their head.

Angry, yes? Why isn’t the pie shared so at least everyone has a bite to eat?

Why isn’t it? Not knowing? Not caring? Fear of scarcity?

What did you answer? Because the hard reality is that if you’re earning $32,000 annually… you, yourself are in the world’s 1% of richest people. Every 8 of us here together, make as much as 3.6 BILLION people.

Globally, people don’t just struggle to have food… they die from lack of food. Globally, there is still enough pie… but we’re the ones sitting on a massive store of it.

It feels very unfair that we are sending money to foreign countries, yes? Why do we owe them? No one in this room personally hurt them. And we work hard for our money!

Why do we owe them? We don’t.

Who has worked for the money? You have.

We have an ingrained morality that those who work the most should have the most wealth. You don’t eat if you don’t work. Work will set you free. We also have an ingrained idea that those who are affluent are more moral than those who are poor. The poor must be thieves, and vandals, and lazy. The rich must be honorable, and build up society, and productive.

Jesus’ time had the same ideas about wealth — and Jesus challenged them. Jesus actually spoke more about wealth than heaven or hell combined. Think about Jesus’ parable of the servants sent out to the vineyard at different times. It’s not fair those who worked an hour get a full day’s pay. Think about Jesus feeding the 5,000 — and feeding again and again. Everyone was given food and everyone invited. No work required. Jesus also spoke blessings on the poor and curses on the rich. The realm of God is found among the poor – and the rich find getting into heaven as hard as passing a camel through the eye of a needle. Utterly impossible.

We ARE the world’s rich. We ARE here, asking Jesus, what can we do to be in the realm of God? What can we do to live more fully in line with what God envisions for the world? We ARE the rich man speaking with Jesus.

And Jesus says – give all you own to the poor and follow me.

… My heart aches for this man who came to Jesus. I’m him. I’m going to walk away sad because I own a lot. I’d rather give some of my pie and not all of it away. I’d rather those richer than me give up their pie.

I look at Saint Francis with amazement. He had this much wealth. And he literally took it all off – before his family and village – and walked out of town completely naked. He left his name, his great riches, his home, his everything to follow God.

I look at the disciples with amazement. They gave up their businesses, and families. Left their homes and left their reputations. They gave up everything to follow Jesus.

I’ve never made a great sacrifice like that to follow Jesus.

Family have told me not to feel the guilt and weight of my wealth. “You’ve given your life to being a pastor!” I hear in their words, “Then who can be saved?!” much like the disciples panicked.

And the answer is still the same: For mortals, it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible. And we who are first on this earth must accept that the reign of God is first among the world’s poor, belongs to the poor, and we are dependent on the poor to be taught how to live in harmony with each other, with the world, with God. How to live humbly.

In the letter to Hebrews, we’re told God knows all out thoughts and intentions. God knows when we try to be good. And knows when we do good deeds for wrong intentions. We “are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.”

What will we say when we’re caught holding 40 pies and billions of people starve?

What will we say when we’re standing before God and accounting the sins we committed, and the sins that over took us?

Or that we were born into?

Or inherited?

The author of Hebrews tells us to be honest with our accounting. Be honest with ourselves, and our God. This isn’t because God knows us inside and out, but because God KNOWS what it is like to be human.

God has come to us, and shared our common lot.

God, in Jesus, sympathizes, understands, our weaknesses.

“Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Let us approach God, and confess we are sinners living in a sinful world – and find God’s grace – unmerited favor. Let us receive mercy – forgiveness for our intentional and unintentional sins. And let us be given the grace to help in time of need. Let us be given that Holy Spirit that say

Yeah. Things are awful. Unfair. Unjust.

Yeah. I’m just one person compared to all of this.

But you know what- I’m one person in Christ. And although this is too much for a mortal to fix, it isn’t for God.

With God, all things are possible.

We just need to dream bigger, work towards that dream of God, and live into God’s new realm now. We can do this by supporting efforts of wealth distribution: unions, farm co-ops, international and local charities, taxes on wealth and tax breaks on the poor – programs that are not fair… but that are just.

Go and be the church! Amen.
((https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/12/06/the-richest-1-percent-now-owns-more-of-the-countrys-wealth-than-at-any-time-in-the-past-50-years/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.ee96add9264b))

Advertisements

Vanities of Vanities

auction_bySheltonReality.jpgEcclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23
Luke 12:13-21

Have you been to an auction? I used to go all the time with my dad. It was our daddy-daughter bonding time. I remember this one auction very well: it took up the entire farmhouse yard, went into the barnyard, and into the two barns AND the house. There were tables of tools, boxes upon boxes of pots and pans, antique furniture around every corner, and enough holiday decorations to decorate the White House. The front lawn had a long line of folding tables divided into lots — lot 1, lot 2, — and so forth. Whatever was in your half of the folding table is what you were bidding upon.

I stood at the head of one of the tables and looked in the boxes. It was photo albums. Book after book of black and white photos; book after book of Polaroids; and Christmas cards with photos and address books with photos. About half were carefully labeled ‘Danny’s First Christmas’ ‘Hannah and Chuck’ ‘Whitehall, 1960’ and so forth. Weddings. Birthdays. Picnics. Men ready for war. Women holding little babies. Kids in bathing suits.

I suddenly realized a woman, an elderly woman, had died. We were rifling through her possessions. Soon we would be taking some, giving her family or her medical bills money, and then all she owned would scattered across the state.

These weren’t extra dishes. These were the dishes she ate with every day.

This table she had toast at, and fed her children.

These were the clothes she washed, wore, repaired, for decades.

And here, these photos in my hands, this is her nice cursive handwriting detail the people she loved. What would be done with the photos now? No one here even knows who Danny or Hannah or Chuck are. Would the buyer throw the photos away and reuse the antique albums? Who collects old color out of focus Polaroids? Why didn’t the family take these?

… Maybe she doesn’t … didn’t… have any living family left.

The auctioneer began his fast pelt of questions and calls and the people around me began to nod their heads or flick their little paper numbers. But I was lost in thought looking at that stack of albums. It made me begin to wonder about this dead woman I’d never met, and, what it will be like when I am the dead woman some day. What will I leave behind when I die?

Another death. Nuns and monks have their own private rooms although they share a big house. A UCC minister told this story of her aunt who was a nun. One of the nuns passed away, and, eventually, the sisters needed to clean out the deceased’s room. When they opened the door to her bedroom, they found it was completely stuffed with things: maps and books, little nicknacks and silk flowers, photos and paintings and everything you can name — all piled into that little room. I think it must have looked like my closet when I was a kid: one of those ‘Open Only If You Dare’ situations. It took days to clean and clear out.

Later, the minister’s aunt herself was diagonsed with incurable cancer. The minister was called by her aunt to come visit. When she got there, her aunt handed her treasures: her favorite painting, little ceramic cats the two played with, and pictures the minister had made her aunt when the minister was a little girl. The minister knew her aunt treasured these things, and was so surprised she was parting with them. But the aunt was adament, “I know you’ll treasure these like I do. Take them.”

When the aunt died, the sisters gathered one day to clear out her room. They found it was completely empty but for its bed, nightstand, and dresser. The aunt had given away everything.

The minister realized then that STUFF is for the living. We can’t take it with us at all. By giving away things, the aunt had seen all the people she loved one last time before passing away. She knew what true wealth is, and how to share it.

The writer of Ecclesiasties sets out to learn what is true wealth. He wants to know: what brings lasting happiness? What brings lasting joy? What is worthwhile to do? How should one spend their life?

And in woe, he finds that most things we do are meaningless in the big picture of the world. Every joy and every meaning is fleeting, is a vanity, a puff of smoke or is dust in the wind. Like cleaning the house, or weeding the garden, our toils never end and just seem to come to nothing.

He writes that if we work really hard and build up something to pass on to our kids: wealth, a furnished house, a business, or even photo albums labeled and organized… we have no guarantee what they’re going to do with those things. They might not appreciate the money and blow through it. Or they may not want to live where we have the house. Maybe they don’t want to work the business. Maybe they don’t want the photo albums.

Yet we want to have lives that MEAN something. If we can’t trust even our own kids to pass on our mark, our stamp, our memory, on the world, what can we do? Is life a vainity? Is life meaningless?

The Teacher in Ecclessiasties struggles with this. In the end, he concludes that the truest meanings of life we mortals can’t know. God alone knows. So, while we are living, live well: relax, eat, drink, be merry, enjoy time with your family and friends. Whatever you do, do with joy. Obey God and the commandments, for whatever life is, (a test? a dream? a proving grounds? a place to learn?) and whatever death is, we can ask God once we have passed away. What is certain is, he writes, “Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb, and as everyone comes, so they depart. They take nothing from their toil that they can carry in their hands.”

Our second reading echos, refers back to, Ecclesiasties. Did you hear it?

A man has come to Jesus and said, “Tell me brother to divide the family inheritance with me!” You see, each son was entitled to some of their father’s wealth when their father died. Usually Rabbis could step in and use scripture to chastize the greedy one not sharing.

But Jesus turns the tables, and warns everyone: don’t be greedy at all! Sure, this boy deserves his share by the law… but the real issue is that greed — greed of the older brother and younger brother — is tearing the family apart. One’s life does not consistent in the abundance of possessions. What you own isn’t who you are.

I can’t tell you how many families I’ve seen torn apart when somebody dies. My own included. Countless. Theft during funerals; hiding or changing wills; hiding possessions; changing locks; lawyers and police and decades of hurt feelings. Over what? Possessions. Jesus reminds us that who is right and who is wrong in these situations isn’t going to make us happy. Getting a laywer or a judge or pastor to say, “You’re right!” doesn’t knit the family back together again. Guard against all kinds of greed. It tears us apart.

Then Jesus tells the story that echoes Ecclesiasties. He says a rich man had land that made him even richer. He had so many crops they didn’t all fit in his barn. So he decided to tear down his barns and build bigger ones. Then, like the teacher of Ecclesiasties, he chose to relax, eat, drink, and be merry. However, the Teacher told us to enjoy time with our family and friends, and to honor and obey God. He also told us that wealth is meaningless. The rich man chose to hoard his wealth all to himself. He didn’t share it with family and friends. He didn’t honor and obey God by sharing with the stranger and the needy. And God called the man a fool, and that the man was going to die that very night. “All the things you prepared, whose will they be?” All that toil was in vain. All that hoarding was in vain. The man didn’t need barns of food after he died. So who owned them now?

Greed tears us apart. Clinging to poscessions tears us apart.

Poccess your poccessions. Don’t be poccessed by pocessions.

When you store up treasures, store them up for God- not yourself! Store up good deeds, good memories, fun times, prayers, times of comfort and sollace, times of generosity, times of worship; store up heavenly treasures. Store up love for others — and share that love abundantly.

The treasures we hoard for ourselves all alone, without others enjoying or God invited, these we lose.

The Teacher writes in chapter 5 of Ecclesiasties:

Whoever loves money never has enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
This too is meaningless.
As goods increase,
so do those who consume them.
And what benefit are they to the owners
except to feast their eyes on them?
The sleep of a laborer is sweet,
whether they eat little or much,
but as for the rich, their abundance
permits them no sleep.
I have seen a grievous evil under the sun:
wealth hoarded to the harm of its owners,
or wealth lost through some misfortune,
so that when they have children
there is nothing left for them to inherit.
Everyone comes naked from their mother’s womb,
and as everyone comes, so they depart.
They take nothing from their toil
that they can carry in their hands.
This too is a grievous evil:
As everyone comes, so they depart,
and what do they gain,
since they toil for the wind?

Wealth – financial stability – comes and goes. Work – what we do to survive – should never consume our whole lives. Our lives are meant for more than labor. No matter if you have no income, a fixed income, make $30,000 a year, or 50, or 100, or a billion dollars a year… you always will think you could use a bit more. So instead of worrying about money, enjoy what you do have – and share it with others. In the sharing we find we all have enough to go around.

Jesus economics are like garden economics. This week I have so many cucumbers I beg you to take some and use them. Next week, you’ll have so many tomatoes you’ll beg me to take some and use some. By sharing, we all have richer summers, richer relationships, and richer lives. We store up in heaven our love for one another.

When we apply this to money, it means that some years of your life you’ll have more income than you need. Then is the time to share, because in later times of your life, you’ll not have enough. And there is no shame in taking tomatoes or cucumbers. There is no shame in taking offered finanical assistance.

For while one has more money than they need, another has more time, another has more skills in gardening or cooking, another has abundant repair skills, and another abundant stories. We each are blessed with more wealth than we can ever count. And together, when we share it, we always are an extrememly blessed community.

Where is your treasure? Stored somewhere fading and passing away; or stored in our heavenly home? Amen.

Possessed!

Hebrews 4:12-16

Mark 10:17-31

Have you heard George Carlin’s act “A place for my stuff?”

It goes a bit like this:

I would have been out here a little bit sooner…
…but they gave me the wrong dressing room…
…and I couldn’t find any place to put my stuff.
And I don’t know how you are…
…but I need a place to put my stuff.
So, that’s what I’ve been doing back there…
…just trying to find a place for my stuff.
You know how important that is, that’s the whole…
…that’s the whole meaning of life, isn’t it?
Trying to find a place for your stuff.
That’s all your house is…
…your house is just a place for your stuff.
If you didn’t have so much […] stuff…
…you wouldn’t need a house.
You could just walk around all the time.
That’s all your house is, it’s a pile of stuff…
…with a cover on it.
You see that when you take off in an airplane and you look down…
…and you see everybody’s got a little pile of stuff.
Everybody’s got their own pile of stuff.

And when you leave your stuff, you gotta lock it up.
Wouldn’t want somebody to come by and take some of your stuff.
They always take the good stuff.
They don’t bother with that […] you’re saving.
Ain’t nobody interested in your fourth grade arithmetic papers.
They’re looking for the good stuff.

That’s all your house is, it’s a place to keep your stuff…
…while you go out and get more stuff.
Now, sometimes, sometimes you gotta move…
…you gotta get a bigger house.
Why? Too much stuff.
You’ve gotta move all your stuff…
…and maybe put some of your stuff in storage.
Imagine that, there’s a whole industry based on keeping…
…an eye on your stuff.

[…]

Now, now, sometimes you go on vacation…
…you gotta bring some of your stuff with you.
You can’t bring all your stuff, just the stuff you really like…
…the stuff that fits you well that month.
Let’s say you’re gonna go to Honolulu…
…you’re gonna go all the way to Honolulu you gotta…
…take two big bags of stuff…
…plus your carry on stuff, plus the stuff in your pockets.
You get all the way to Honolulu and you get in your hotel room…
…and you start to put away your stuff…
…that’s the first thing you do in a hotel room…
…is put away your stuff.
Now I’ll put some stuff in here, put some stuff down there…
…here’s another place some stuff here…
…I’ll put some stuff overthere.
You put your stuff overthere, I’m putting my stuff over here.
Here’s another place for some stuff.
Hey, we got more places than we’ve got stuff.
We’re gonna have to buy more stuff.

And you put all your stuff away, and you know that you’re…
…thousands of miles from home, and you don’t quite feel…
…at ease, but you know that you must be okay because you do have…
…some of your stuff with you.
And you relax in Honolulu on that basis.

That’s when your friend from Maui calls and says “Hey…
…why don’t you come overto Maui forthe weekend…
…spend a couple of nights over here?”
[…]
Now what stuff do you bring?
Right, you’ve gotta bring an even smaller version…
…of your stuff…
…just enough stuff for a weekend on Maui.
And you get over, and you are really spread out now…
…you’ve got [stuff] all over the world.
You’ve got stuff at home, stuff in storage, stuff in Honolulu…
…stuff in Maui, stuff in your pockets…
…supply lines are getting longer and harder to maintain.
But you get over to your friend’s house in Maui…
…and they give you a little place to sleep…
…and there’s a little window ledge…
…or some kind of a small shelf…
…and there’s not much room on it but it’s okay…
…’cause you don’t have much stuff now.
And you put what stuff you do have up there…
…you put your imported French toenail clippers…
…your odor eaters with the 45 day guarantee…
…your cinnamon flavored dental floss…
…and your Afrin 12 hour decongestant nasal spray.
And you know you’re a long way from home…
…you know that you must be okay because you do have…
…your Afrin 12 hour decongestant nasal spray.
And you relax in Maui on that basis.
That’s when your friend says…
…hey, I think tonight we’ll go to the other side of the island…
…stay at my friend’s house overnight.
[…]
Now what do you bring?
Now you just bring the things you know you’re gonna need…
…money, keys, comb, wallet, lighter, hankie, pens… […]
Think of Carlin’s words — “that’s the whole meaning of life, isn’t it? Trying to find a place for your stuff.”

Protecting it from rain and weather.

Guarding it from robbers.

Paying others to guard your items.

And accumulating more and more stuff all around the world, and then finding a place for it.

Carlin is so extremely funny because he speaks truth to us in a way we hadn’t heard it before. We’ve heard Jesus’ message about stuff too often for it to really hit home – so Carlin repeats it in a new way. But it’s the same old story!

Who is possessing whom? Do you have possessions or are you possessed?

The young man who comes to Jesus is a good young man. He’s following the Torah very diligently. He comes to Jesus not to catch Jesus in a word trap, like so many others, nor to ask for a healing – no, he wants to know, how can he inherit eternal life?

Jesus tells him to follow the commandments of God. The young man says he already is doing so.

“Jesus looked at him, LOVED him, and said ‘You lack one thing… sell what you own and follow me.'”

And the poor man goes away in grief. In sorrow and agony “because he had many possessions.”

We always assume the man doesn’t sell everything and follow Jesus because he leaves in sorrow. But the text doesn’t say that. Perhaps the man left in grief and sorrow because he HAD SO MUCH STUFF! So much to sell, to organize, so much to say goodbye to… but maybe, someday, he did get released from his possessions and followed Christ.

I am guilty of being possessed by possessions. Some of them I’m holding on to because you know, I might need that some day or I think I’ll get around to fixing them. It’s half a can of paint, but you know, the moment I donate it to the ReStore, to Habitat for Humanity, is the day I’m going to need just a little dab of paint. And yeah, I have two sweepers – the old one just needs a new belt rotor. I’ll fix it some day. It’s only been broke… for four years. So there it is, in my closet.

Other things I’m holding on to because they are fond memories or are just cool. I’ve got my kindergarten coloring book and I smile when I see it. It means nothing to everyone but me. It’s marks on big bold pages from some kid. But to me, it’s days sitting at my aunt’s house and great-grandma’s. There’s also a stack of wedding invitations from all my friends who have gotten married.

And the cool things — like this magnifier glass that folds into a leather case — but I digress. I hold on to all of this. I move it, from this apartment to that, and now to a home. I haven’t used any of these in years — almost decades — and yet they stay on.

Stuff.

I think, I feel like if I get rid of the stuff, I also get rid of the memory.

It’s like, I don’t want to throw away my key to those memories by throwing away the invite or the book. So I carry them on. I don’t want to forget Katie’s wedding or lunch at Great-Grandma’s. I don’t want to lose that special feeling I have when I think about those times.

And yet — here, I just recalled to you those memories without the items physically in my hand. I can access those memories without a physical key. I don’t need the old coloring book or wedding invite to remember, to feel the emotions, to smile…

… If Jesus had told me to sell all I own, give the money to the poor, and follow him… I would go away grieving too. Even if I eventually did just that – it would feel like Jesus had asked me to give up all my memories.

… and that is not at all what Christ is asking.

Christ is asking that we own possessions, rather than being owned by them.

Asking that we hold on to our items with lose hands, so that we share what we have easily and quickly.

Asking us to not be the person in Carlin’s skit who feels stretched thin with stuff all over, but to be a disciple of Christ who owns only what they can possess and use… nothing that possesses them and uses them.

If I donate my paint to Habitat and find I need a dabble, I bet one of my neighbors has some I can borrow. I can rely on my community. If I asked my community, I bet someone even has the part for the sweeper or wants mine for parts.

Jesus comes preaching freedom to the captives. He preached freedom to this captive rich young man — freedom from stuff — but the freedom price was so heavy. It was the weight of houses and storage units, stuffed garages and boxes. And fear.

Jesus especially preaches freedom to the richest nations, such as ourselves. Freedom from bigger houses and places to store stuff, freedom from going into debt for more stuff and more places to put stuff, freedom from fretting over what stuff to buy this upcoming Christmas season. We have more than we ever will need already.

We have but to hold on to our stuff more loosely.

And to not fear letting go.

To trust.

To follow.

Jesus speaks to us in this rich nation specifically today. “How hard it is for Americans to enter the kingdom of God! It’s as hard as driving a F150 through the eye of a needle. Impossible – but for the grace of God.”

And why us specifically? Because the more stuff you have, the richer you are, the harder it is to share. The harder it is to let go. The harder it is to freely follow Jesus rather than to be labored with, burdened with, caring for, organizing, working to afford, and housing stuff.

Stuff is stuff, I think Jesus would say. Stuff doesn’t matter.

People do.

Don’t ignore people for stuff.

For the kindom of God is made out of people… not forks and spoons, houses and cars, clothes and books. The kindom is people.

All this stuff you’ll leave behind. What you take is what’s in you. Memories. Relationships. Loves. Invest in those, not more stuff.

Amen.

Given to Saint Michael’s United Church of Christ, Baltimore, Ohio 10-11-15